Longform

Return of the Black Widow

Page 9 of 13

Her syrupy-sweet nature and pretentious spirituality began to irritate her benefactors. "She had very manipulative ways," says the pastor's wife. "She tried to tell us what to do." Two weeks into her stay, Camille told the pastor that God had revealed to her that he and his wife and a certain African-American couple at the church should get together with Camille and pray. When the pastor asked why, Camille said God hadn't revealed that yet.

The next day, learning that the pastor hadn't mentioned it to his wife, Camille insisted that the wife remind him. "Remember," Camille said, "delayed obedience is disobedience."

That angered the wife. "It was like we were disobeying God if we didn't do what she wanted," the wife says. "I called her on it. So she backed off."

After three months, when Camille's funds still hadn't appeared, the couple got fed up. They offered Camille two jobs, but she turned them down, saying God didn't want her to work. "The Bible says if you don't work, you don't eat," the pastor told her. She replied, "I know, but I'm so close to God, I know what he says."

The pastor told his wife not to help Camille any longer. When Camille asked the pastor's wife for $7 to buy some things at the drugstore, the wife declined. Camille huffed, "I cannot believe you'd disobey the word of God that way."

When the pastor kicked her out at the end of April, Camille begged the black couple at church to let her stay with them for two weeks. They took her in, though the husband had been injured and was out of work. Camille piled her belongings in a corner and slept on the couch. She stayed two months.

Camille rarely ate with the family, going to the library each day to surf the Internet and watching TV preachers at night. She began using their home address to receive mail from various ministries. At the end of June, they finally asked her to leave. To soften the blow, they gave her a plane ticket to the West Coast to visit Emily, courtesy of their daughter, a Delta employee who could get a buddy pass for $50. Camille accepted, but explained she had to stop first in Columbus, Ohio, to pick up some of her things.

She lied. Instead of visiting her daughter, Camille spent the week in Columbus at the World Harvest Church for the "Rod Parsley Mission 2003." (One commentator calls Parsley's TV services "a hybrid of pep rally, boxing match and professional wrestling.") She wrote to Barron Hilton, chairman of the board of Hilton Corp. and a friend of the late Bobby Bridewell, asking him to comp her weeklong hotel stay. She told him she'd been doing missions work in Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Kazakhstan, the United Arab Emirates, South Korea, China and India. "...Being a part of establishing children's homes, rescuing abandoned or orphan children from living on the streets, taking in babies and children...is the heart of my missions work. Also I have been involved in implementing feeding & medical outreaches, water well projects, setting up nutritional & environmental education & mentoring programs; as well as equipping, teaching indigenous peoples work/job skills to earn better living to improve their quality of life."

She described smuggling Bibles into China, then venturing into "the far outreaches of Hubei Province to distribute Gospel tracts by means of what is termed 'night tracting' (done under the cover of darkness)...It was like being Agent 007 for Jesus! The greatest reward to me is the opportunity to minister in love to the heart needs of unreached peoples groups, while meeting their physical needs, bringing hope to the hopeless.

"Now I am in the States and beginning life afresh and anew...For the past couple of months, I have been staying here in Alabama with family friends, making vital decisions such as where to settle, how specifically to reframe my life, and being in the 'valley of decision!' One thing I am planning is to set up a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit for my ministry, establishing a base in the states to work here on behalf of children and families in our own country, as well as continuing to serve in the nations. This is a certainty!" (Hilton did not return a call requesting comment.)

She'd obviously absorbed the lingo of the Evangelical Christian missions community. Had six months of prayer and fasting brought forth a reborn, devout Camille Bridewell? Or had listening to TV preachers and reading their literature given her fresh ideas about how to separate people from their money?

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